Bleeding Red: Holy War was not just another game

Third time’s the charm, or so they say
But I’ll take one more any day
Four in a row just makes me grin
I wish they’d play next year again

 COMMENTARY — Let’s be honest, the Holy War between Utah and BYU is not just another game for either team.

Leading up to the game, the coaches and the players do have to treat it like any other game from a preparation standpoint. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has consistently pointed out, “Wwe don’t prepare any differently for it, we just do our normal routine.” The reasoning behind such an approach makes perfect sense. “If there was a way that was better to prepare, we wouldn’t save it for this week, we’d do it very week,” explains Whittingham.

scoreHowever, once the preparations are complete and the game begins, emotions run high on both sidelines. There is no disputing the rivalry between Utah and BYU.

“At our team meeting on Monday, I asked for a show of hands of anyone in the room that has ever lost to these guys,” said Whittingham. “Not one hand went up and that’s the way we wanted to keep it.”

When asked what the win over BYU meant to him, Utah defensive standout Trevor Reilly proudly exclaimed, “I’m 4-0 and I get to say that for the rest of my life.”

Why does this game mean so much? The fact that the schools are less than 50 miles apart plays into it. However, it’s more than just the proximity of the schools. This is not community against community, or Salt Lake vs. Provo; it’s co-worker against co-worker, neighbor against neighbor, family against family, and in some cases there is a division in loyalty even among families.

“It’s not just another game, it’s a rivalry game,” explains Trevor Reilly. “And there’s blood on both sides in most families.” Of all people, Trevor would appreciate such a split in family loyalties. Last Saturday, Trevor played against his brother Drew who currently plays for BYU.

“Myself, or my family, have been directly involved in this rivalry for I think 40 straight years,” reminisced Kyle Whittingham. “Either a coach on one of the staffs, a player on one of the teams. There’s a connection for 40 straight years with some member of my family.”

As fanatical as I am about the Utah Utes, not everyone in my own immediate family shares my passion for the school on the hill, and some of them downright disagree with me. In fact, my cousin, Janie Penfield, is an associate athletic director for BYU (actually, she is my mom’s cousin’s daughter, but I’m not smart enough to know the technical term for our relationship — I just know she is closer to me than a lot of my direct cousins).

And it’s not just the locals who get caught up in this rivalry. Even Utah wideout Dres Anderson appreciates the significance of this game. “If we get that win, that’s the main thing, especially against BYU. That’s the best.”

“Beating BYU is one of our goals and that was something that we really wanted to accomplish and we got that done,” explained Utah QB Travis Wilson.

I think Trevor Reilly summed it up the best: “In all reality, for everybody here this is a sweet, sweet victory.”

The cross-pollination between the coaching staffs has no small influence on this rivalry, either. Ironically, Kyle Whittingham played for BYU, and there are members of both coaching staffs who actually played for the rival school. I guess it is only appropriate that Kyle Whittingham played for LaVell Edwards at BYU in light of the fact that Whittingham is currently dominating this rivalry at Utah the way that Edwards used to dominate it at BYU.

While lacking in last-second heroics and dramatic twists that have made so many rivalry games memorable, this was still a great game.

In many statistical areas, the teams seemed evenly matched. Utah had 402 yards in total offense, while BYU had 443. Both teams ran a very balanced offensive attack with nearly the same number of passing plays as running plays.

However, there were a few key differences. BYU ran 95 offensive plays compared to Utah’s 68. Notably, Utah had a significantly better average of yards-per-play than BYU. After the game, Whittingham pointed out that the number of plays run is not the primary focus, “It’s what you do with the snaps that you have.”

The bottom line is that Utah made the most of its opportunities while BYU did not. Utah was 4-4 in scoring in the red zone, with two field goals and two touchdowns. In contrast, BYU was only 3-5 on scoring opportunities in the red zone with two field goals and a single touchdown. That was the only statistical edge Utah really needed to win the game. A very telling series was late in the fourth quarter when BYU started a drive at Utah’s 13-yard line only to go four and out after gaining only six yards.

I must admit that a late Saturday night kick-off was not my first choice for this rivalry game. Shortly before I drove down to Provo for the game, I got to meet my 16-year old daughter’s date for her high school’s homecoming dance as he picked her up from my house. I put my arm around the young man’s shoulders and calmly explained that my daughter had better be home before me that night or there were going to be a lot of unhappy campers. I was pleased to find my daughter sound asleep in bed by the time I came rolling in after the game.

Additionally, a 6:30 a.m. church meeting, literally just hours after I got home from the game, meant I got very little sleep Saturday night. However, it was totally worth it and I wouldn’t have missed that game for the world.

Which brings us to the two-year hiatus in the Holy War that is now upon us. Utah and BYU are not scheduled to play again until September 10, 2016. As a fan, I could not be more disappointed.

Apparently, Utah’s home-and-home match-ups with Michigan in 2014 and 2015 are the primary reason Utah opted to suspend its annual rivalry game with BYU. Dr. Chris Hill, you simply made the wrong decision. If you think a game with Michigan means half as much to Utah’s fans as a game with BYU, then you are really out of touch with your fan base.

Adding some intrigue to the two-year break is the possibility of a bowl game match-up between Utah and BYU. While such a match-up may not necessarily titillate sponsors, television networks or the rest of the nation, such a post-season match-up may be a watershed moment in the Holy War.

This season, BYU will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against the Pac-12’s No. 6 team. If Utah is bowl-eligible this year, it may be hard to climb higher than sixth in an extremely competitive Pac-12 Conference with four teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25, and with two additional teams receiving votes.

The bowl outlooks for 2014 and 2015 are still a bit murky. While a bowl game match-up between BYU and Utah is currently unlikely in either of those years, who knows what will happen between now and then.

For now, I’ll take Utah’s most recent victory in the Holy War. I am just sorely disappointed that I am going to have to wait two more years for the rematch.

~

Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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